By J.A. Jones, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Friendship Missionary Baptist Church held their annual Angel Tree Ministry’s Breakfast last Saturday for children of incarcerated parents, but this year there was an added outreach.
“We look to provide Christmas for children whose parents are incarcerated, and this year our dynamics changed–we also included the homeless children who were identified at Melrose Elementary,” explained Brenda Frazier-Dennie, who has coordinated the initiative for the last six years.
“We were able to collectively handle over 60 families for this holiday season,” she shared.
Angel Tree® is a national initiative of Prison Fellowship; it began in 1982 and has become the largest outreach for children of prisoners.
According to the national ministry, 2.7 million U.S. children have an incarcerated parent, and nationally the organization has given out more than 10 million gifts in its 33-year history.
When the coordinator at Friendship stepped down from running their Angel Tree Ministry event, Frazier-Dennie, who is a teacher, took over.
“I used to go out and deliver the gifts to the families, but people don’t like to open their doors to people they don’t know. We decided we’d have an event where we could bring the children in and give the parents a little bit of a break as well,” she added.
The children were served a delicious breakfast provided by Virginia Rivers and the Culinary Arts Ministry as well as having arts and crafts time, a chance to tour a fire truck and meet members of the fire department, speak with a representative from JROTC at Gibbs High School and get their faces painted.
Gifts were donated by church and community members and three substantial monetary donations by MSJ Hauling, LLC, African American Graduates of 1975 and one anonymous donor all helped to make the morning possible.
“The first year we had it here we had maybe 15 people, and we were most of the 15, and now more than 100 kids were given presents,” she stated.
The gift giving process is quite simple. A prisoner must contact their chaplain, who in turn will get the information to an Angel Tree® coordinator closes to the child. A coordinator, in this case Frazier-Dennie, contacts the caregivers, who can be anyone from the child’s mother to a grandparent, uncle or aunt.
“We try to get information on what the kids like to help soften the blow at Christmas,” she said.
Elder Corey Waters has donated to Angel Tree® for more than 20 years, so when he was asked to be on staff for the Friendship’s Angel Tree Ministry, he jumped at the chance.
“I’m on standby in case anyone needs counseling,” he said. “I’m here to serve,”
Frazier-Dennie acknowledged the personal impact of the event.
“It’s restored my faith in humanity because I think we get so callous and we forget. My kids can tell me, ‘Oh I want this, this, and this,’ and I can make it happen. But when you have a homeless child who tells you all they want some socks and some underwear or a child whose parent is incarcerated and all they want are some clothes or shoes. It makes you realize that we are still very needy in this nation.”
Frazier-Dennie wanted to especially thank Deacon Oscar Davenport for always being available for anything needed and Rev. Dr. John Evans for watching over his flock.
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